(Updated 6 p.m.) Minutes after the General Assembly approved the deficit mitigation plan Tuesday, the gloves came off and the goodwill that had been cultivated through bipartisan budget negotiations evaporated.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Wednesday that he’s “frustrated about how the process played out.”
He said that for months Republican legislative leaders were “demanding to be in the room,” and then they left the room before negotiations were completed because they weren’t willing to compromise.
“You don’t leave the room until the job is done,” Sharkey said.
Republican leaders, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, said in separate phone interviews Wednesday that Sharkey’s interpretation of what happened is not accurate.
“It’s a false and bald-faced lie, because that didn’t happen,” Fasano said.
In a letter to Sharkey, Fasano said all parties realized that we couldn’t come to an agreement, so they ended those discussions together.
Sharkey, who is seeking a third-term as speaker, said Republicans came into the room with “unreasonable” demands for a special session.
He said Republicans demanded that if the General Assembly didn’t hold a vote on recommendations for approving an enforceable spending cap, “and pass those recommendations by a three-fifths vote,” then all other business would some to a halt.
“This was their demand,” Sharkey said Wednesday in a phone interview. “It’s a Draconian way to set policy.”
Fasano said Sharkey obviously didn’t read the amendment Republicans offered.
But Sharkey was referring to an amendment offered in the House, which said “the General Assembly shall enact no legislation or adopt any resolutions during the remainder of the 2016 session unless legislation has been enacted into law, by vote of at least three-fifths of the members of each chamber.”
Fasano was referring to an amendment offered in the Senate that stated if the legislature has not adopted, and the governor has not signed, a bill that enacts the statutory spending cap definitions by a three-fifths vote by March 1, 2016, then legislators shall receive a 10 percent reduction in pay, shall not be able to attend any conferences, and shall not be able to spend money on unsolicited mailings.
The two amendments were different, but the message was the same.
“Clearly we are 23 years behind doing what the voters of Connecticut directed us to do, so let’s do it,” Klarides said.
She said creation of a commission to study the spending cap, which was part of the package adopted mostly along party lines, is not enough.
Klarides said they had a list of 13 items they wanted addressed and not one of those ideas was included in the package adopted Tuesday.
In addition to creating a time frame for completing the enactment of a constitutional spending cap, Republicans called for the closure of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and for the General Assembly to vote on all labor contracts. But the CJTS closure was withdrawn from the budget document on Tuesday when some of the 335 employees at the facility started calling their lawmakers concerned about their jobs.
Fasano said Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was on board with setting a date to close the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, and in 2011 Fasano said the governor also proposed the General Assembly should vote on all labor contracts.
Klarides said 40 percent of the state budget is labor costs and all the legislature wants to do is exercise the power of the purse and vote a contract up or down.
“It’s reasonable that the legislature be able to vote,” Klarides said.
However, Sharkey said it’s politically difficult to get consensus from his members on resolutions regarding labor contracts. Also, Sharkey’s number two in the House, Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, is an employee of AFSCME Council 4, which represents the largest share of unionized state employees.
Klarides said Democratic lawmakers were “scared and nervous” when Republicans left the room last week because they refused to be “co-conspirators” on a budget solution which is likely going to fall into deficit again in a few months.
Further, Klarides said Sharkey should be ashamed of himself for ratcheting up the partisan rhetoric in the wake of what had been a bipartisan process.
“Desperate people do desperate things, and it’s unfortunate speaker has resorted to this type of rhetoric,” Klarides said.
Sharkey maintained that in the end Republicans walked out of the room “because we were not willing to give them the ability to shutdown the legislative session next year.”
Malloy’s statement following Tuesday’s vote maintained the spirit of bipartisanship.
“We had good, serious, bipartisan conversations about the short term and the long term,” Malloy said Tuesday. “We found that there is much more that can unite us than divides us. While we couldn’t achieve a bipartisan vote, we had a bipartisan process to lead us to the vote tonight.”